Last November, amidst massive demonstrations of outrage at the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, an NYPD officer shot and killed an unarmed black man close to home. Akai Gurley, 28, was gunned down in the stairwell of an East New York building in late November. Police Commissioner Bratton stated that Gurley’s death was due to Officer Peter Liang’s “clumsiness” while patrolling the Louis H. Pink housing projects.
Liang was reportedly a rookie cop who’d been on the force for fewer than 18 months when Gurley was killed. Gurley’s death was another tragic addition to the list of black men shot by NYPD officers, and fodder for many protestors who cite violence and outsize use of force on people of color as a systemic problem in the United States.
But on Wednesday. Liang was arraigned on charges of second degree manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide, and official misconduct, among others.
The Times quoted the Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson who said at a press conference yesterday, “We don’t believe Officer Liang intended to kill Mr. Gurley.” However Thompson added that his office brought the charges because Liang fired his weapon in the absence of a threat.
The indictment is a departure from the Eric Garner case in Staten Island, where a Grand Jury decided not to bring charges against Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who placed Garner in a chokehold while off duty. The Times pointed out this is the first time in over two years that an NYPD officer has been indicted “in connection with a fatal on-duty encounter.”
Liang issued a plea of not guilty while supporters of Akai Gurley, including the victim’s family stood outside the court house. According to the Times, Gurley “had done nothing more than enter the stairwell in the Louis H. Pink Houses.